WOCT-FM billboard sends sexist message

This Just In...

October 01, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

ADVERTISERS like guys. They like relatively young American guys, 25 to 42 years old, guys who work hard for their money, who drink beer, who eat fast food, guys who like cars and sports, guys who might be dating, guys who might be married with children. Guys who buy blacktop sealer by the 5-gallon drum. Real guys.

So, if you run a radio station that runs on revenue from the advertisers who like guys, then your radio station had better appeal to guys. And how do you get your radio station to appeal to guys?

You put up billboards with giant female breasts and the words: "What a pair!"

Subtlety doesn't work in this high-pressure business. You need to make a splash.

If you're putting a pair of new personalities on the air, as WOCT-FM did in recent months, then you need to do something outrageous, maybe even offensive and obnoxious.

Whatever it takes.

Maybe someone -- in this case, an elementary school principal in Northeast Baltimore -- will complain about your billboards, and you might have to eventually remove some. Maybe some newspaper columnist will draw attention to them and, in the process, spread the word about the morning radio show you're trying to promote. Bad publicity is better than none at all, right?

Taste?

What's taste got to do with anything anymore? This is America, no?

"It certainly doesn't speak to any level of sophistication," Jim Dolan said when I questioned him about the appropriateness of the mega-cleavage billboards. Dolan is the general manager of WOCT-FM, once known as the Colt. Over the summer, his station started carrying a syndicated morning program, the "Bob & Tom Show," out of Indianapolis, with Bob Kevoian and Tom Griswold as hosts. It's an entertaining program, clearly rooted in guy humor. It doesn't tap Howard Stern crude, but it reaches to the edge of good taste. It's probably not something you want to have on in your car while driving the kiddies to school.

Of course, that's a choice you make, based on individual judgment. What you listen to in the privacy of your Dodge Ram -- a real guy vehicle -- isn't anybody's business, including mine.

A billboard is different.

A billboard is out there, in plain sight, and therefore more susceptible to attack.

I'm a free expression guy, and I appreciate good jokes, even off-color ones. But I found the WOCT billboard offensive, not so much because of the huge, bikini-rimmed breasts -- hey, I've seen "Baywatch" -- but because of the words, "What a pair." It's a sexist expression some numb teen-age boy would use to taunt girls. Putting it on a billboard, in plain sight, condones the attitude behind it. There's no getting around that.

I'm not the only guy who feels this way.

David Agger, who works at the counseling center on the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, saw the rooftop billboard on York Road, between the Senator Theatre and Govans Presbyterian Church, and called it "demeaning, insensitive, sexist, juvenile."

You say such things these days, and you risk being labelled either a blue-nose or a politically correct feminist. Not a real guy guy, if you know what I mean.

Baloney.

Media in all forms influence attitudes, especially young ones still forming. WOCT-FM might be trying to attract guys 25 to 42, but its billboards could be seen by any kid whizzing by in a car or playing on a playground.

No joke about the playground.

Last month, a huge "what a pair" billboard went up on a bank roof directly across from the playground of Gardenville Elementary School, at Frankford Avenue and Belair Road. Principal Retta Barkley didn't noticed it until a woman who lives in the area brought it to her attention. Barkley complained to the station's general manager, Dolan. She said she found the billboard inappropriate "as a woman" and as a person responsible for the education of children. The inappropriate billboard, she said, led to inappropriate discussions among 10-year-old boys. She asked Dolan to remove it.

"It was gone within 24 hours," she said yesterday. "[Dolan] didn't realize the sign was so close to a school. He was very apologetic, very cooperative."

To his credit.

Dolan said he's received "a few" complaints about the billboards. Two parents in Gardenville protested -- "they went a little McCarthy on us" -- and others have complained about the billboards being near residential areas. The one in Govans, near the Senator, will be removed soon, he said.

I asked Dolan if he found the billboards crude.

He asked me to define crude.

Using a massive depiction of the female anatomy along with a sexist expression on billboards to promote a radio program fits my definition of crude.

But crude is the least of it.

There's the clearly sexist message it sends -- especially to the boys and young men for whom we, as role models, are supposed to be setting a standard.

How's that? Is that guy enough for you?

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